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Waddington Triathlon

(Text appeared originally in CAJ 1991)

by Kobus Barnard

(all photos copyright by Kobus Barnard)

"Kobus, what are you doing" my girlfriend asked me. There I was, kneeling on the floor in the middle of the room, with a lighted clock in my hand. I answered, so she reports, "I am moving to above the high water line". Another night I was in a tomb-like crevice. Most of me was back from the trip, but part of me took weeks to come home.

Ever since retreating from high on Mt. Waddington's south face in 1982, I have wanted to return. At that time we went by foot from the head of Knight Inlet because we wanted to do the south face, and that was the obvious way to do it. Partly because of that trip I knew that using any more "help" on the approach would leave me dissatisfied. Dave Sarkany, a man of many transportation modes (including para-gliding) wanted to add to the approach by kayaking to the head of Knight Inlet. Hamish Robertson, crazy enough to do anything (he's Australian), rounded out the party.

Our journey started at Adam River on Vancouver island, from where Knight inlet turned out to be a three day paddle through incredible passages including views of a waterfall pouring directly into the ocean,  dolphins, seals--of course, this being my first kayak trip, I may have been overly impressed.  We only had one capsize which was due to using the stable two man boat with a sail to tow the sleek, unstable one person boat in five foot high sees. The boat being towed (Hamish's) would surf down the backside of the waves, actually passing the towing vessel! Eventually the inevitable occurred, but it was a riot while it lasted.

The hot weather of the summer of 1990 had swelled the rivers to amazing proportions, including one that we had to cross. After several hours of roped wading attempts (becoming roped dunkings) and brainstorming, I had given up any hope of crossing Fissure creek. Hamish concluded that "there is no way to do this under any kind of control". So he saved the day by simply jumping in and swimming across. Dave, being enlightened about this possibility, swam across also. Still sceptical when it came to my own life, I swam with my foamy made into a life preserver, and two ropes, one pulling against the current, and one at right-angles to it. (Note: Using ropes in white-water is dangerous. You can be stranded in the middle by using only one rope that pulls against the current. You should be able to escape your tie in in a hurry. Belayers should have knives. Helmets are recommended.)  Thus the approach to Waddington involved two water sports as well as the usual gamut of climbing activities.

On reaching the Franklin I was amazed at how much the Glacier had receded since 1982, and noticed that the access to the ice from the opposite (west) side of the river had gone from a dangerous affair to one that leaves me with visions of sky-hooking across blank glacier polished cliffs above the raging torrent, and climbing unprotected on moraine remnants that somehow stick to the same cliffs. I will leave the exploration of this newly uncovered terrain to others.

The journey up the Franklin is a mountain experience I definitely recommend. I do not find it a dull trudge; on the contrary, it is a vivid lesson in glacier action. More than any other glacier that I have travelled, it is a river of ice, and a highway through the mountains. The slopes above the first part of the Franklin have trees extending up thousands of feet. One usually thinks of glaciers as being essentially above the tree line, but the Franklin comes down to merely 1000 feet above the sea. The Franklin is feed by many glaciers, but the ice from the various sources does not mix. Rather the glaciers merge, and lines of rock delimit the boundaries all the way to the terminus. Along the way we inspected huge vertical shafts carrying churning water straight to the bottom of the glacier--Hamish figured that "If you fall down there, your a dead man". The view of the mountains also demanded attention, notably the Whitemantle range dropping glaciers downwards, and the Waddington range drawing us onwards.

We passed icefall point on a totally magic morning. A storm had hit that night, plastering Waddington white with snow. I was glad that this time we were not going for the south face. Instead our intention was to go via Fury Gap, follow the route used by the Mundays to go to the North-West Peak, and then continue on to the main peak by the route used on the 1984 traverse of the range. We pushed above Fury Gap on a cloudy day (view), but had to return because Dave discovered that a injury he got on a small tumble near icefall point would prevent him from climbing.

Without fuss, Dave insisted that Hamish and I try again while he waited below Fury Gap. The next morning, the weather could not have been better. The conditions on the north ridge were entertaining due to the dry summer and recent storm. The views were incredible, amplified by the openness of the glaciers. Highlights included the icefalls into the Scimitar, the granite on and around Gedes, the buttresses on the peaks from Combatant through to the Seras, and Waddington itself. We camped high on the Angel Glacier with the weather closing in.

Another clear day meant that we had to continue wading through the deep snow on the Angel glacier. Next, the descent from the North-West Peak to the shelf below the Main summit was complicated by spind-drift, icy conditions, and the problem that from above, it is pretty difficult to tell where to go. Every picture I have seen of this section looks different due to varying conditions, so research didn't help much. By the time the bottom was reached, I was cursing my dull crampons, my old boots, my disintegrating gloves, and my aching calves.

I  do like climbing ice, but getting out of the wind and onto  the warm summit rock was a dream come true. The summit block climb is great, and I regret having to rush it a bit. The excessive multitude of old rappel points and tattered fixed line does detract from it though. We found a better route back up the ice on the North-West Peak, climbing it while the walls of Combatant and Tiedemann were a vivid gold from the sunset. Camp was reached in the dying light.

As were not able to make the North-West Peak the preceding day, we went back for it from high camp the following morning. I knew that if didn't grab it then, I would definitely regret it. And we had no summit shots yet, since I had left my spare film at high camp during the ascent of the main peak. So we climbed the North-West Peak on a perfect day, leaving me with only one regret: that we were not somehow also able to do the Tooth (the awesome rock spire forming a third peak of Waddington). Although the descent back to the camp below Fury Gap was routine, I remember it as an exercise in forcing myself to climb safely in spite of fatigue. Dave was glad to regain some rope-mates, not to mention the use of a stove, on our return.

 The two day rain-soaked hike out from Fury Gap came right on the heels of the summit push, and it has been a long time since I have been as trashed as I was at the end of each of those days. But I probably would not be in this sport, if pushing one's body to do this sort of thing is not rewarding in some sense. And then there's all that amazing ice!